Guest Post by Colleen Duggan
(Note: Many thanks to my friend Colleen for sharing her thoughts with us all. She’s an all-around awesome chica and a great writer. If you have a chance, visit her blog! – RO)
I reached a new low recently when I unintentionally insulted an innocent woman during a family trip to the pool. I had positioned myself at the shallow end so I could watch my five children splash, and dive, and revel in the joys of unlimited summer swimming.
As my little boy ran his toy car along the edge of a pool step, my baby splashed her hands up and down in the cool, blue water. An acquaintance, toting an over-sized beach bag stuffed to the brim with necessities, entered the pool deck with two small children trailing behind her.
Previously, this mom and I had commiserated about things like sleepless nights, managing non-swimming toddlers, and the stressful, annoying eating habits of picky kids. I enjoyed our conversations and felt she was someone I could befriend.
On this particular day, she found an available lounge chair, set down her things and began the laborious process of lathering up her fair-skinned beauties so they were water ready. After floaties were inflated and secured, she directed her little ones towards the pool where I was sitting.
“Did you decide to sign your kids up for more swim lessons?” she asked me, as she stepped into the water. Her two-year old baby was slung over her hip.
“No, swim team,” I answered, happy to have the company.
Unfortunately, this is the point in the story where our positive adult interaction nose-dived. Although I wanted to continue to get to know her better, I broke sacred rule #1 when making new women friends:
Don’t ask if a woman is pregnant unless you are sure they are, in fact, expecting.
What can I say?
I messed up.
It was if my brain forgot to send the “Don’t Ask That!” warning signal to my mouth and my lips, left to their own devices, thoughtlessly forged ahead.
The woman wasn’t expecting.
There was no bun in her oven, no impending bambino.
There was, however, an embarrassed woman fumbling for words and me, all wet from pool water, completely aghast at my social gaffe.
But it gets worst.
Instead of apologizing for my mistake and moving on, I tried to make it better.
I tried to talk myself out of my impolite question by asking more impolite questions, thereby continuing to offend this poor woman. By the end of her Grand Inquisition, she abruptly turned and floated away.
I stood there waiting for the ground to open and swallow me whole.
I was embarrassed, but not because I had made a jerk of myself (though I had). I was embarrassed because I hurt this kind mom.
Sitting there on the shallow pool steps, I immediately sought consolation in prayer. I silently begged God’s forgiveness for my insensitivity, for hurting another person, and for acting as a poor witness.
For the next several days, whenever she came to mind, I would pray–for her, for my stupidity, and for some type of peace. I knew I was going to see her again (she was, after all, a member of the same pool) and facing her was going to be painful–for the both of us.
To my relief, I stumbled across a helpful prayer from Father Jean C.J. d’Elbee’s excellent book, I Believe In Love, that addressed this very situation. It said:
“Jesus, from the evil also which I have wrought around me, draw forth good. Even, I dare to ask You, draw a greater good from it than if I had not done the evil… Make reparation in me and around me. ”
Yes. That’s right, I thought. If it is in God’s will, He can repair my wrong and make things better than if I had never opened my big mouth at all.
“Fix it, Lord,” I prayed.
After some encouragement from a friend, though, I also decided the next time I saw the woman, I would apologize for my rude behavior. The opportunity came, about two weeks later, in the parking lot as my brood and I were tramping back to the van. I took a deep breath and caught her eye.
“You don’t ever have to talk to me again,” I said, “but I have to apologize for offending you the last time we spoke.”
I choked on my words, my remorse fresh and painful, and told her I hadn’t been at peace since our last conversation.
The woman softened and grabbed my hand.
“Please, don’t worry about it,” she said. “It’s OK. I’m sick and people ask me if I’m pregnant all the time. I forgive you.”
She hugged me and the entire situation was resolved. She was gracious and kind and forgiving. I felt instantaneous peace.
I’m not going to lie: It was hard to humble myself and say I was sorry. My humanity wanted to excuse away my inconsideration with commentary like, “But I’m a good person! She doesn’t even know me! I didn’t mean to hurt her.”
But the fact remained, I had hurt her and I needed to acknowledge my mistake.
And once I apologized, I was the grateful recipient of her love and mercy, a beautiful taste of the love and mercy of our Heavenly Father.
To experience benevolence like that, makes me (almost) glad it happened.
“And He has said to me,
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses,
so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
Colleen Duggan is a Catholic wife, mother, and writer. Her articles and blog posts have been published at CatholicMom.com, Faith & Family Live, and Catholic Digest. She blogs at Meditations of a Stay-at-Home Mom.